Sunday, January 21, 2018
Health

With treatment, fire ant allergy doesn't have to keep you indoors

We commonly think of bees, hornets and wasps when it comes to allergic reactions, but the fire ant is also a culprit, especially in Florida. Lots of people get stung, especially in the summer months. Up to 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers an allergic reaction to these stings. The scenario is easy to imagine: You could be walking in the park and unknowingly step on an ant pile. Then, you suddenly feel yourself being bitten repeatedly.

Reactions to a fire ant sting can range from a normal reaction at the site — redness, itching and swelling, then a pus-filled blister that develops within four to 24 hours — to an allergic reaction that can include redness, itching, swelling or hives, more severe anaphylaxis, including throat or tongue swelling, breathing difficulty, abdominal cramps or loss of consciousness. A severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Fire ants are stinging insects typically seen in Southern states, from Florida to Texas. Although there are native fire ants, most of the fire ants people are allergic to have been imported, accidentally, from South America. The red or black imported fire ants inhabit more than 260 million acres in the Southeast. They build nests of dirt on the ground or on edges of sidewalks. Fire ants bite with their jaws, and one ant can inflict multiple stings in a short time. Semicircular patterns of stings often occur. After 24 hours, the bites sometimes appear as cloudy white blisters. Multiple enzymes and toxins in fire ant venom cause the reaction.

When you've had a possible allergic reaction to a fire ant sting, it is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately, then see a board-certified allergist and immunologist who is specialized and trained in diagnosing and treating fire ant allergy. Diagnosing fire ant allergy can be done with a skin test. If you are diagnosed with a fire ant allergy, you will be prescribed a lifesaving EpiPen to be used in the event of a severe allergic reaction. It is important to know how to work an EpiPen and to always seek medical attention immediately if an EpiPen has been used. Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, are an excellent and effective long-term treatment option for fire ant allergy. You are given small but increasing doses of the allergen, in this case whole body fire ant extract, until your body is able to tolerate it. Eventually, patients who have lived in fear of an allergic reaction to a fire ant sting can return to normal life knowing their risk has been reduced to that of the general population.

There are a few ways to lessen your chances of being stung by fire ants in the first place: Watch where you walk, taking care not to step on a fire ant mound; wear closed-toe shoes and, if possible, socks when walking in the grass; wear gloves if working in the garden. There are also products that can help you get rid of fire ant mounds and kill the queen ant.

Being outdoors in the summer is a fun way to enjoy the great weather, so don't miss out.

If you think you have a fire ant allergy, speak to a board-certified allergist for a diagnosis and treatment plan that will help keep you safe outdoors.

Dr. Mona V. Mangat and Dr. Ami K. Degala are board-certified allergists and immunologists at Bay Area Allergy & Asthma in St. Petersburg. Find them at bayallergy.com. If you have a question for the doctors, email them at [email protected] Your question may be answered in a future column.

Comments
Expect some pain. That’s what hospitals are starting to tell patients as concern spreads over opioids

Expect some pain. That’s what hospitals are starting to tell patients as concern spreads over opioids

Doctors at some of the largest U.S. hospital chains admit they went overboard with opioids to make people as pain-free as possible, and now they shoulder part of the blame for the nation’s opioid crisis. In an effort to be part of the cure, they’ve b...
Published: 01/19/18
It’s flu season, and how: Here’s what you need to know

It’s flu season, and how: Here’s what you need to know

Cristi Fryberger, a fifth-grade teacher, was headed back for the first day of classes at St. Petersburg Christian School after the Christmas break but didn’t feel well. She left a couple of hours later and went to an urgent care clinic, where a swab ...
Published: 01/19/18
This 66-year-old is about to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents

This 66-year-old is about to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents

When Robert Owens’s father was 75, he gave his son some advice. "He said, ‘You know, son, the sad part is when you get old they just put you on a shelf and you become irrelevant. Fight to stay relevant. Fight to stay in the game, otherwise they will ...
Published: 01/18/18
5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

Five things we learned about President Donald Trump from Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the doctor who oversaw Trump’s first medical checkup in office. SLEEP Trump doesn’t get much shut-eye. Jackson guessed that Trump snoozes four to five hours a nig...
Published: 01/17/18
A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

WASHINGTON — The descriptions are haunting. Some victims felt fine in the morning and were dead by night. Faces turned blue as patients coughed up blood. Stacked bodies outnumbered coffins. A century after one of history’s most catastrophic disease o...
Published: 01/17/18
A popular school fundraiser is just ‘junk-food marketing to kids,’ experts say

A popular school fundraiser is just ‘junk-food marketing to kids,’ experts say

For 43 years, schoolkids and their parents have clipped the labels from cookie bags and cracker boxes as part of a popular rewards program called Labels for Education.Through this and similar programs — think Tyson’s Project A+ or General Mills’ Box ...
Published: 01/17/18
Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Feeling a little sniffly or scratchy or stuffed up? It may be the flu, and you don’t want to wait around to see a doctor this year. This is not the time to write off flu-like symptoms, Tampa Bay area health officials and doctors warn. The influenza v...
Published: 01/16/18

CDC says ‘There’s lots of flu in lots of places.’ And it’s not going away anytime soon.

A nasty flu season is in full swing across the United States, with a sharp increase in the number of older people and young children being hospitalized, federal health officials said Friday.The latest weekly data from the Centers for Disease Control ...
Published: 01/12/18
Mease Countryside Hospital begins $156M expansion project

Mease Countryside Hospital begins $156M expansion project

SAFETY HARBOR — Mease Countryside Hospital is launching a $156 million expansion to build a four-story patient tower with all private rooms and a four-story parking garage.The tower will include 70 private patient rooms, a 30-bed observation unit, cr...
Published: 01/11/18
Flu shot? This is why you should still get one this year

Flu shot? This is why you should still get one this year

This year’s flu season is shaping up to be a bad one. Much of the country endured a bitterly cold stretch, causing more people to be crowded together inside. The strain that has been most pervasive, H3N2, is nastier than most. And, we’re being told, ...
Published: 01/11/18